Elijah McClain organizers for tried kidnapping and a decade-long jail sentence for protesting towards Aurora, Colorado police
The organizers from Aurora, Colorado, Lillian House and Joel Northam.
America’s judicial systems are still segregated, as evidenced by the ongoing lack of criminal penalties for law enforcement officers who have caused the deaths of many Americans – even given last year’s riots against high-profile cases of police violence.
One such high-profile case was that of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died in 2019 after being arrested by police officers in Aurora, Colorado, said McClain “looked sketchy” walking home from a supermarket. Paramedics who were on site after McClain lost consciousness from police brutal reluctance injected him with a massively oversized dose of ketamine, according to a recent independent investigation. The young man then went into cardiac arrest and died a few days later.
The officers involved in McClain’s fatal arrest – Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema – are still employed by the Aurora Police Department after former Adams District Attorney Dave Young said they failed to use force against McClain break the law. Protests against police unaccountability went into high gear last summer in Aurora amid national outrage against police brutality, particularly when it was revealed police officers had taken mocking selfies outside a McClain memorial.
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Now, some of the organizers who spearheaded these protests may have been in jail for decades because of Young’s indictments before he left office. Joel Northam and Lillian House spoke to The Root about the crimes they must respond to now. These reportedly include a gunless riot, attempting to influence an officer, conspiracy to steal and attempt to kidnap police officers, a Denver’s Westword report.
“What’s really perverted here is that this was a really massive movement, thousands of people in this community took part and it was completely justified,” said House, who called the demonstrations outside the Aurora Police Station last summer as peaceful sit-ins referred to where she and others nonviolently demanded accountability for McClain’s killers. “No act there was a kidnapping attempt.”
The prosecutor who brought the charges against them said they prevented officers from leaving their district by barricading doors. House strictly denies the characterization of their actions.
“It really is a very dangerous attack on the right to protest,” she said. “The violence of the police here is just so great. Trying to smear and criminalize the movement that questions this, this is a movement against violence, is just perverse. “
House faces nearly 50 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
Northam, who faces over 40 years in prison if convicted, said a SWAT team stopped at his home in a tank and with automatic weapons to arrest him in September.
At the time, “I am thinking about historical attacks on black activists and what happened to them,” Northam said. “You could literally just come up to me and execute me and just say that I did something – that’s on my mind.”
He and House, arrested the same day, then spent eight days in jail, as did another organizer, Eliza Lucero.
“I think of the fact that we served more prison sentences and had more consequences just because we asked for justice for a man we saw murdered on video than any of the police officers,” said Northam.
He also pointed out that what he said represented a double standard between handling protests against racist policing and dealing with Capitol insurgents, most of whom were not charged with crimes. “Many of those involved were treated with kid gloves while we did nothing and they throw the book at us.”
Amelia Power, an attorney representing Northam, House and their co-organizers Terrence Roberts and Eliza Lucero, who are also prosecuting, hopes the newly elected prosecutors in the jurisdictions in which they are charged will see that the cases are not of interest serve justice.
Calls regarding the case to the Colorado 17th Judicial District office, DA Brian Mason, who replaced DA Young after walking on a platform to combat injustice in the criminal justice system, were not answered. DA John Keller’s office of the 18th Judicial District declined to comment on the cases, but confirmed that there were pending cases against three of the organizers.
Northam and House have preliminary court hearings Tuesday. Meanwhile, Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser is currently re-examining the Elijah McClain case and has opened a grand jury investigation into his death.